If you’re an aspiring or practicing occupational therapist (OT), you may be wondering what non-traditional OT roles could be open to you. In fact, there are many options for OTs who feel more called to think outside the box than to work in a traditional staff job in a school or clinic. Creative OTs can become practice owners, independent contractors, consultants, educators, entrepreneurs—and more.
An article in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy enthusiastically promotes the idea of OT entrepreneurship as a way to increase the visibility of the profession. The authors note that because resources and support have been lacking for occupational therapy entrepreneurs, this marketplace opportunity has gone largely untapped, with far fewer OTs in private practice than physical therapists (PTs). However, they write, “Occupational therapists have so many opportunities for entrepreneurship because of the fundamental nature of their service: making a match between complex people and complex environments (occupational forms) so that function and positive adaptation are maximized.”
Striking out on your own can be a way to use your clinical experience and training to create your dream role. It can be a way to stay engaged with the profession and let passion guide your career path. It’s also a way to set an example for your peers who may want to take this step but aren’t sure how. Entrepreneurship is a good fit for those who have an eye for opportunity and a tolerance for risk. You can start slow, keeping your day job for as long as that serves you.
Below, we outline some ideas and resources for those who want to get their feet wet—or take the plunge!
Starting Your Own OT Practice
Starting your own practice may be easier than you think. You could launch it from your home with low overhead, especially if you are seeing clients in their homes or workplace. Then, once you have the resources and business knowhow, you could establish a clinic where clients come to you. Your clinic could even evolve into a multitherapist practice staffed by OTs or even other rehab practitioners.
Working as an Independent Contractor
One popular option for self-employed OTs is to work as an independent contractor for one or more agencies, schools, or healthcare organizations. You can work in a clinical capacity, seeing patients on site. Or you can choose a non-clinical role, such as a pre-service coordinator (who coordinates the transition of patients to the next appropriate level of care) or a rehab liaison (who finds the right patients for inpatient rehab facilities).
The opportunities for consulting as an OT are limited only by the imagination, and include:
- Product development: Part of an OT’s training is in creating assistive devices that are customized for particular clients and client populations. OTs are well-positioned to lead the way in manufacturing and marketing durable medical equipment and a range of low-tech and high-tech devices for use in clinics, schools, business, and home settings.
- Assistive technology consultant: In this related role, you can create and/or find the right existing accessibility technology for people with disabilities. You can work in the areas of job accommodations, computer accessibility, vehicle modifications, architectural modifications, learning modifications, environmental controls, and more.
- Seating mobility specialist: This specialist creates seating, positioning, and mobility solutions for people with disabilities, especially those who use wheelchairs.
- Ergonomic consulting: Businesses and architects need the expertise of ergonomic consultants who know the principles of healthy seating and human-centered business design.
- Home/workplace modifications consultant: In this capacity, you’ll examine home and workplace environments, then make recommendations (and perhaps create assistive devices) to remove hazards and put injury prevention measures in place.
- User experience/user interface design: If you’re technically savvy, you can design and/or create smartphone and computer apps and other technological solutions for OTs and their patients.
- Driver rehabilitation and training consultant: You can assess driver readiness, make appropriate vehicle modifications, and teach patients to drive.
- Consultant for schools: Schools that don’t have full-time OTs may hire consultants on a part-time basis to educate teachers and/or work with special ed kids.
- Consulting in your area of expertise: If you have an area of expertise, such as orthotics, low vision, geriatric care, etc., you could consult with individuals or clinics in this area.
- Wellness coach: OTs have a lot of specialized knowledge about wellness and healthy movement that they can leverage in a coaching practice. They can help other OTs and rehab professionals, business people, or really anyone.
Educating OTs and Others
There’s a need for OT educators in colleges and universities—and also in business settings. You could become a professor, an adjunct instructor, a clinical instructor, a fieldwork coordinator, or a continuing education instructor. You could also teach seminars on ergonomics to companies or workshops on OT principles to grade school teachers. As a mentor, you can show students the value of OT as a profession and how it fits into the bigger picture of patient rehabilitation. You can guide students to become OT leaders and create fulfilling niches for themselves.
Blogging, Podcasting, and Other Media Roles
Healthcare entrepreneurs can find many ways to communicate with their audience—whether peers or patients—through new media. See our post about nurse entrepreneur, blogger, and career coach Nurse Keith.
- Blogging: There are several OT writers in the blogosphere, but there’s room for more! Check out these blogs.
- Podcasting: Do you have a favorite OT podcast? Give these and these a listen or start your own.
- Freelance health writing: If you’re interested in writing about OT and other healthcare topics, see this post on The Non-Clinical PT.
- Making videos: If you’re good with a camera and you know OT, you can make videos teaching OT, PT, and speech-language pathology (SLP) rehab techniques, as well as videos that market clinics, products, and more.
The Non-Clinical PT: USAHS San Marcos alumna Meredith Castin, DPT (2010), runs this website with an OT colleague. This site explores pathways to non-traditional career opportunities for all rehab professionals, including PTs, OTs, SLPs, and assistants. It’s full of great information to help you launch a non-traditional OT career. Castin has also created a career coaching course for PTs and OTs that’s available for purchase on the site.
OT Potential: This is another helpful website that serves as a forum for evidence-based OT practice. It includes information about non-clinical OT paths and features a podcast, blog, and newsletter.
The Independent Therapist Alliance: Launched by an OT, the ITA is a national association for independent contractors in rehabilitation that offers career resources, networking, tips on earning more money, and more.
- Occupational Therapy Entrepreneurs is moderated by Sarah Lyon of OT Potential.
- The groups Non-Clinical Networking for Rehab Professionals and Non-Clinical Job Postings for Rehab Professionals are both moderated by Meredith Castin of The Non-Clinical PT and open to all rehab professionals.
- Holistic Occupational Therapy is a group of OTs with a passion for finding ways to integrate their OT skills and complementary medicine. This has led to several venturing into non-traditional OT work.
This post is the second in a series about interesting career paths in occupational therapy. Stay tuned for the next installment about OTs working with survivors of human trafficking.
The largest OT graduate school in the United States*, the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers hands-on Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) and Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degrees. Practice with mock patients in our state-of-the-art simulation centers and learn anatomy with our high-tech tools. Prepare for clinical practice with patients across the lifespan, as well as advanced roles in research, practice leadership, and policymaking. Residential and Flex (online and campus-based weekend courses) tracks available. We also offer an online Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy (ppOTD) program designed for working clinicians and healthcare educators, with optional on-campus immersions and an annual interprofessional trip abroad.
*Based on total MOT and OTD degrees conferred, as reported by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Data is captured by IPEDS through interrelated surveys conducted annually by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).